SALT LAKE CITY -- Jason Terry hit one of the biggest shots of the season for the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night. It's the reason the veteran guard, he of two NBA Finals appearances and one title ring, is on this club.
Terry nailed a game-tying corner 3 with 11.1 seconds to play in regulation during a desperation game that these two teams at the bottom of the playoff standings needed.
The Rockets had momentum heading into the extra period, but they lost it, and the game, to the Jazz. The 117-114 defeat knocked the Rockets to a half-game behind the Jazz for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
"This might have been the toughest loss of the season," Terry told ESPN. "We fought back. Give credit to Utah, they were very resilient, hit big shots. But this one is going to sit with us. We're going to be a pissed off team when we go into Portland on Wednesday."
After underachieving in the first half of the season and surviving the rumors at the trade deadline, every game is so precious for the Rockets from here on out.
After beating Phoenix to start the second half on Friday, Houston continued this three-game road trip with a chance to beat two teams fighting with them for the final two playoff spots.
On paper, the Rockets appear to be the better team. The reality, though, is this team is basically a .500 group along with Portland and Utah. The hottest team most likely earns a playoff berth against either Golden State or San Antonio. If you're lucky, maybe shooting up to the sixth seed provides you a date with Oklahoma City.
"It's not about where we are in the standings," said James Harden, who took over the game in the third quarter by scoring 12 points in 12 physically dominating minutes to finish with 42 points. "It's about us continuing to fight and play the right way, and I think we did that tonight. We made some tough shots. [Utah's] Rodney Hood made a couple of big, tough 3s, pull-up 3s off the dribble. This is a tough loss for us. We competed at a high level. We have a great opportunity in Portland."
The Rockets had a great opportunity against the Jazz, yet cost themselves a game.
The numbers will show the Rockets were outrebounded 41-35 and outshot 51 percent to 41 percent and still had a chance to win.
"Little things turn into big things down the stretch," Ariza said. "As hard as we fought to get back in the game, we didn't do enough to win."
It's those little things that cost them the game, like failing to pick up Derrick Favors, who grabbed a rebound in traffic for a putback layup that gave the Jazz a 117-114 lead with 11.8 seconds left in overtime.
Before that there was Hood, who finished with 18 points, nailing a 3 over the outstretched arms of Dwight Howard and pushing the Jazz to a 115-112 OT lead with 51.9 seconds left.
The Rockets kept fighting, and when Terry missed a corner 3 on the ensuing possession, he followed up his shot and drew a foul crashing into Shelvin Mack with 39.3 seconds to go. After the timeout, coach J.B. Bickerstaff designed a beautiful play, getting Harden a layup on a cut to the basket as Ariza found him with the pass to bring the Rockets to within one.
Terry's final shot of the night rimmed out at the buzzer, and the Rockets walked off the floor and out of the current playoff picture. Now they head to Portland, winners of nine of 10 games.
"In my head, I thought we were going to win that game just because of how we finished [regulation]," Terry said.
There's nothing the Rockets front office can do now with this group. It tried to upgrade the talent at the deadline and all it got was a first-round pick later taken away on a failed physical by Donatas Motiejunas, who might not play much the rest of the way, now that he has been returned.
"This was a tiebreaker opportunity for us," Bickerstaff said. "We got them one more time; obviously whenever you're playing a team you're matched up with, they're important games. But our focus is on us right now; we're not worried about other teams or the playoff race. Our focus is on being the best we can possibly be.
"If we play the best we can possibly play and we reach that spot, it's not going to happen overnight. It will be a work in progress."